Old Trafford takes in a rare midweek Premier League game, with high-flying West Ham United in town on Wednesday as Sir Alex Ferguson’s team aims to consolidate a one point lead in the table. Manchester United’s renewed Premier League supremacy came amid few positives from a lethargic display against Queens Park Rangers on Saturday – a scenario Ferguson is keen to avoid against the Hammers.
Once again, on Saturday, United fell behind, only to secure victory over QPR with a three goal burst inside 10 second half minutes. It is a pattern that has repeated all season, although the Reds’ lifelessness for much of Saturday’s tie will definitely certainly concern United’s manager.
West Ham travel north following defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend, but lying in a healthy eighth place in the Premier League, with Sam Allardyce’s outfit just two points off a European qualification place.
This is a performance that brought fresh support from Ferguson for his old friend Allardyce. The former Bolton Wanderers manager has rarely enjoyed universal support from Hammers’ fans during an 18 month spell at the club.
Meanwhile, United will make at least one change from the weekend’s line-up, with veteran midfielder Paul Scholes absent through suspension. Anderson, who impressed in a 30 minute cameo on Saturday, could start just his seventh game of the season against Allardyce’s outfit.
Ferguson has plenty of dilemmas ahead of kick off, with neither Ashley Young, Nani, nor Antonio Valencia in form for the Londoners’ visit. In any case Valencia’s hip problem could rule out the Ecuadorian once again, while Nani has missed matches against Aston Villa, Norwich City and QPR with a hamstring problem. Young, jeered off on Saturday, could drop to the bench.
“We’ll see what Antonio is like today and tomorrow,” admitted the United manager.
“Nani is still going to be out [but] Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were on the bench on Saturday and they’re available. It’s good to have them as back-up and in the back four things are much healthier. We’ve got plenty of options in the midfield and up front – it’s just the two wide positions.”
Yet, the big-boned midfielder, with Javier Hernández, changed Saturday’s game for United – the pair adding urgency and dynamism as the Reds won the fixture with a short burst in the second half. The player has often frustrated at Old Trafford, but a 30 minute substitute appearance has renewed hope that the former Porto star could fulfill his potential.
“I thought Ando won the game for us,” said Ferguson after United’s 3-1 victory on Saturday.
“His performance was outstanding. He took the game by the scruff of the neck and he was so positive and determined in his play that he picks himself on Wednesday.”
However, much focus will also be on United’s opponents at Old Trafford, with £35 million on-loan striker Andy Carroll likely to draw the Stretford End’s jeers. The Liverpool forward, on loan at Upton Park for the season, has scored just once this season after a near disastrous campaign with the Merseyside club last year.
Still, United’s inability to come up with more than three clean sheets in 20 matches this season means Carroll is an undoubted threat on Wednesday night.
“I am sure if you ask any defender, they find it difficult to play against someone like that who is good in the air and on the floor,” said fellow striker Rooney who should return to United’s starting line-up against the Hammers.
“He is physical and he makes it difficult. That type of player doesn’t always get all the goals but they can cause trouble up front and create problems. I am sure that is what Sam Allardyce wants him to do.”
Whether Carroll’s presence induces yet another comeback performance is yet to be determined, although Ferguson is unlikely to tolerate another lesson in mediocrity. While United’s defensive performance against QPR was far better than at times this season, with Jonny Evans impressing at centre half, the team’s lack of urgency was deeply concerning.
Meanwhile, Allardyce is without suspended midfielder Mark Noble, while left-back George McCartney is a doubt after suffering an ankle injury against Spurs. Yossi Benayoun, Jack Collison and forward Ricardo Vaz Te are also ruled out though injury.
Whatever West Ham’s short-term problems, Ferguson says Dudley-born Allardyce has already exceeded his remit in brining stability to the east London side.
“Big Sam went to Upton Park a year and a bit ago and the cynics said he’s not a West Ham manager as he doesn’t play football,” said Ferguson.
“What was his mandate? To get them up into the Premier League as quickly as possible and he got them up within a year. Tell me someone else who could’ve done that? He’s also had to rebuild the team and get two or three players out because of their salaries. He’s very underrated, it’s as simple as that.”
Whether Allardyce can lead his men to victory is another matter. While memories of Fabian Barthez raised right hand and Paulo di Canio’s cup goal are fresh, so too are eight victories for the Reds in the past 10 meetings between these sides. Old Trafford expects nothing less than a repeat.
Manchester United v West Ham United – Premier League, Old Trafford – Wednesday 28 November 2012, 8.00pm
United (4-2-3-1): Lindegaard; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Anderson; Cleverley, Rooney, Welbeck; van Persie. Subs from: De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Powell, Wootton, Buttner, Fletcher, Hernandez, Henríquez.
West Ham (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Reid, McCartney, Tomkins, O’Brien; Nolan, Diame, O’Neil, Taylor, Jarvis; Carroll. Subs from: Spiegel, Collins, Demel, Taylor, Moncur, Cole, Maiga.
Referee: M Jones
Assistants: R Ganfield, G Beswick
Fourth official: J Moss
West Ham: WLDWDL
Head to Head
Last 10: United 8, West Ham 2, Draw 0
Overall: United 56, West Ham 42, Draw 24
- Hernández remains the league’s most productive goalscorer in terms of the average time per goal strike – one every 69 minutes is unmatched by any other forward;
- Robin van Persie failed to add to his tally against QPR, but performed well enough to usurp Carlos Tevez as the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index‘ leading player – on 276 points to Tevez’ 275, with Juan Mata in third-placed on 244;
- The Dutchman’s philosophy is certainly more than ‘style over substance’ – he covered 6.39 miles at the weekend, more than any other United player for the third consecutive game;
- United is the only team in the league to have won six of the last seven games, yet in nine of the past 13 league matches Ferguson’s men have fallen behind;
- Darren Fletcher returned from a long-term absence at the weekend – his first league start in over a year – and covered 6.29 miles in 90 minutes, more than all but three of his team mates;
- Meanwhile, West Ham head to Old Trafford just two points off Everton in fifth-place, with Kevin Nolan key to the Hammers chances at Old Trafford – Nolan is the league’s most accurate finisher according to the Index, with 70 per cent of 30 shots on target this season;
- Defender James Tomkins has won 93.8 percent of his tackles this season – more than any other league player;
- The Hammers suffered a tough day against Spurs last weekend, but Andy Carroll’s goal means that the east London club has failed to score in just three matches this season;
- Carroll has split fans’ opinions this season, but has 13 on target from twenty attempts.